MERIDIAN – Powered by freshman Jakorie Smith's 29 points, the East Mississippi Community College men's basketball team held on for a 73-70 road victory over Meridian Community College during MACJC Monday night hoops action played at MCC's Graham Gymnasium. In women's action, EMCC's Lady Lions pulled away from the home-standing Lady Eagles in the second half to successfully open their season with a 65-54 win.
In the men's nightcap, the Lions owned the advantage for the first 18 minutes of the game and held 13-point leads during each half. Donte Powers' 3-pointer at the 6:41 mark gave the visitors a 25-12 lead, but subsequent consecutive technical fouls called on EMCC initiated a 9-0 Meridian run that included seven consecutive free throws made. In the midst of a momentum-changing 24-3 run to close the half, including the final 12 points, back-to-back 3-pointers by sophomore guards Keontae Trotter and Iverson Smith gave the Eagles their first lead of the game on the way to a 36-28 halftime margin.
Following intermission, the Lions responded by scoring the first 14 points of the second stanza to reclaim a six-point lead (42-36) on Smith's 3-pointer. Later in the half, EMCC benefitted from a technical foul called on Meridian that led to nine unanswered points by the Lions and increased their lead back up to 13 points (67-54) with six minutes left in the contest.
With the visitors still leading by a dozen points (71-59) with 4:40 remaining, Justin Brown's 3-pointer with 38 seconds left on the game clock capped an 11-0 run by the Eagles that made things very interesting down the stretch. After Smith's clutch basket in the lane gave the Lions a three-point lead with 14 ticks remaining in regulation, Alvarez Powell's potential game-tying trey attempt misfired at the buzzer to give EMCC head coach Billy Begley his ninth consecutive series win over Meridian since taking over the Lions' head coaching duties prior to the 2015-16 basketball season.
Including his game-clinching bucket during the waning seconds, EMCC's Smith was clearly the star of the game in a contest that featured four Lion players fouling out. The former Clarion Ledger Dandy Dozen selection with three-time Class 4A state champion Raymond High School scored 21 of his game-high 29 points in the second half against the Eagles. Along with hitting 9-of-16 field goals and making all 10 free throw attempts, Smith added a team-high 10 rebounds, including four offensive boards, to record his first collegiate double-double. Powers and KJ Riley followed with 16 and 11 points, respectively, for the 2-0 Lions.
Iverson Smith paced Meridian's quartet of double-digit scorers with 17 points. Brown followed with 16 points, while Tyler Williams and Powell added 11 and 10 points, respectively, for the 1-1 Eagles.
In women's action during the season opener for both teams, the Lady Eagles held the advantage for most of the opening half. Back-to-back baskets by sophomores Tye Metcalf and Topazia Hawkins late in the half gave EMCC its first lead (28-27) of the contest with 2:34 left until halftime. A pair of free throws by Taylor Lattimore during the final seconds put the Lady Lions in front, 32-30, heading into intermission.
Following the break and after a couple of lead changes to open the second stanza, the visitors took control of the contest in the third quarter despite Metcalf being saddled with three fouls. The Lady Lions outscored Meridian, 17-10, during the quarter with Lattimore and freshman Ja'Mia Hollings combining for 14 of the team's 17 points that gave EMCC a 49-40 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Lattimore's third 3-pointer of the half and a Hollings bucket following a steal to begin the final period gave the EMCC women a double-digit advantage they would not relinquish for the remainder of the season-opening contest.
Lattimore, a transfer from Jackson State University, led all scorers with 15 of her game-high 19 points coming in the second half. Hollings, out of West Point, hit 8-of-13 shots from the field in scoring 17 points while also adding seven rebounds (five offensive boards) and four steals. Metcalf, an All-MACJC selection as an EMCC freshman, tallied all of her 11 points in the first half while sitting most of the second half in foul trouble.
The MCC Lady Eagles were led by Berniya Hardin and Sidney Sims with 14 and 10 points, respectively.
Coach Sharon Thompson's East Mississippi Lady Lions venture to Monroeville, Ala., to participate in the two-day (Nov. 8-9) Lady Eagle Classic hosted by Coastal Alabama Community College-North. The EMCC women are slated to take on Coastal Alabama-South on Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. before taking on the host Lady Eagles the following day at 3 p.m.
The East Mississippi basketball teams will return to doubleheader home action on Thursday, Nov. 14, when they play host to the Warriors of East Central Community College on the Scooba campus. A 5:30 p.m. women's game will be followed by a 7:30 p.m. men's contest at EMCC's Keyes T. Currie Coliseum.